Friday, October 28, 2011

Haiku - Waking up on the Farm

No photo, none needed.

Snow-like frost on leaves
Blue jays blasting through tree tops
Red leaves fall like rain

I also posted two more haikus that fell out of my brain today on my kale blog I cannot explain where these came from or why; some type of flashback to high school?, some new opening or re-wiring of connections in my brain?

I don't know a thing about poetry, let alone 'haiku rules', so please don't blast me for what I have forgotten or never knew. I prefer to see (and remember) those blue jays blasting through the tree tops right outside my bedroom window as my eyes focused while waking up this beautiful morning!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row" (and word by word!)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All 1-2-3 blogs mentioned!

Since October is the month designated to focus on breast cancer (research, screening, treatment options, survivorship, and hopefully also prevention!), I was recently interviewed for another blog written by two dietitians (Stephanie Clark, RD and Willow Jarosh, RD) who interviewed me as a featured 'expert', i.e., knowing a thing or two about breast cancer and nutrition. :-) However, I was also very pleased that they included questions in the succinct interview on their blog about gardening, so in the end, all three of my blogs (along with my book and website were mentioned and tied together by very good questions.

The blog written by Stephanie and Willow is sponsored by Bumble Bee tuna with a focus on whole foods, nutrition, and increasing activity. My plant-based and whole food approach to my diet, with lots of physical activity thrown in by both regular exercise and also gardening/farming, is a nice complement to the information provided by their blog. Donations from this blog are given to support a very worthy breast cancer organization based in Chicago called Y-Me? which helped me with emotional support after my first breast cancer diagnosis way back in 1984 when I was only 34 years old.

Why me, indeed! Hopefully some of you will also benefit from Y-Me?'s support services like I did.

In addition, because my readers know of my advocacy for reducing environmental risk of cancer by eating organic foods, I think you will also find the following blog post (Racing for the Cause) very informative, which is also written by another colleague, Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, and published at

Thank you, Stephanie and Willow and thank you, Melinda for both mentioning gardening (particularly growing organically) as a very achievable and effective way of decreasing your cancer risk!

Note my first recommendation is to start small. No one is expecting you to start a farm like my husband and I did! :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Slowing down, blueberries, or surgery - what is the answer?

Do you know the answer, the path to a cure for cancer, 100% of the time, in each individual? I don't, and I don't know any responsible oncologist or 'alternative' health care practitioner who would guarantee a 'cure' either.

However, there has been lots of 'chatter' on various websites, along with a recent article in the New York Times, about the death of Steven Jobs being 'his fault' for the treatment path he chose for his type of pancreatic cancer. In addition, there has been a recent article in the Chicago Tribune highlighting the recent death of the French neuro-scientist David Servan-Schreiber, PhD, who first wrote the best-selling book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life and more recently, knowing his brain tumor had relapsed 20 years after first being diagnosed, wrote the book Not the Last Good-bye, in which he essentially says there is 'no miracle cure for cancer' including any diet, exercise, or stress management program that can prevent a cancer from recurring.

Both men lived longer than many with the same diagnosis. Could they each have lived even longer if only they had done X, Y, or Z? There is no way to know if that would be the case, period, pure and simple.

I can say with close to 100% certainty that all of these 'Monday morning quarterbacks' commenting about the 'wrong' choices Steven Jobs made must have no idea, none at all, what it is like to personally face a cancer diagnosis, to seek out, understand, and choose among the myriad of choices, to sort out the potential help from hype from harm, no matter if you are trying to sort through 'conventional' cancer treatments or complementary/alternative/integrative treatments, whatever you want to call non-conventional cancer treatments these days. Frankly, it is extremely difficult for anyone to do that, even 'smart people', even 'rich people', even 'scientists', even 'medically knowledgeable' people, let along if you are 'none of the above'.

In addition, anyone questioning why blueberries did not cure Dr. Servan-Schrieber's brain tumor is putting a lot of hope and faith (and naiveté) in the word 'cure', let alone in any one conventional cancer treatment, one food, or even a total lifestyle. Cancer is wicked, nasty, completely unpredictable, and completely unfair. My father had a quick and awful death from lung cancer, having absolutely no identifiable risk factors. A man who established Ann Arbor's first organic farm in the early 70's had a fairly rapid death after a brain tumor diagnosis a few years ago. A close friend of mine died from breast cancer only a few short years after her surgeon looked me in the eye in the waiting room while telling me that her surgery had 'cured' my friend.

Don't misunderstand me. I am still hopeful. However, I know it is impossible to call the shot accurately 100% of the time. I do not like the word 'cure'. I also do not like the word 'remission'. Cure implies 100% certainty that cancer will not return. Remission implies that cancer will come back. I am somewhere in-between, where?, I am never sure, but when people do ask about my cancers, I prefer to tell people that I currently consider myself cancer-free until someone tells me otherwise.

I cannot say what I would have done had I been Steven Jobs. I cannot say what I would have done if I were Dr. Servan-Schrieber. What I can say is that it is impossible to say what you will do (and no one has any right to question someone else's decisions) until you are right there yourself, facing your diagnosis, juggling all the unknowns and your worst fears with your values, or experiencing your most alive feeling ever, no longer knowing only in the abstract that your time on this earth, in this lifetime, is truly limited.

I have only the deepest respect for each of these well-known men, both of whom showed us how to live a full life after a cancer diagnosis, a life looking fear in the face, a life that made a difference, and a life without complacency. My book, my life, my website and blogs have never offered a 'cure', only reasonable hope based on the best science available for both extension of life and enhanced quality of life for whatever time we each have remaining (whether one day or decades!).

When it is my turn, even if I do die from cancer, I will die knowing I have done both, i.e., extended my life and enhanced the quality of my life. In my opinion, both Steven Jobs and David Servan-Schreiber achieved the same. I have no doubts, none at all, that everything I have done by combining conventional cancer therapies with blueberries (etc), yoga, meditation, writing my book, dashing all over the country to speak, starting our farm, and now trying to 'slow down' (ha ha!) have allowed me to be fully alive. All of this has helped me 'stay hungry, stay foolish' (the send-off phrase that Steven Jobs used during his address at Stanford's graduation in 2005). Both of these men both did the same. Who can ask anything more from anyone who found himself on center stage of the grossly unfair world of cancer?

However, I will leave you with one thing to ask. Please start asking, and keep asking, over and over and over again, why aren't we focusing on finding the cause(s) of cancer that must be all around us? If you didn't read it last year, I do recommend reading the President's Cancer Panel Report of 2010 “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”. Searching on your favorite search engine will bring you to the very readable document.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall on the Farm

This year we had a long, cold spring that seemed to finally lurch into summer, right before our son's wedding in early June. I think the same could be said for fall's colors. The trees have been green for a long time, then green and dry-looking, then just dry-looking, finally bursting with color for a few days, then, poof!, the winds came and stripped off the leaves just like that (thankfully, leaving our power intact this time), so that today it almost looks like November while still not being quite that cold yet.

We went to our last local farmers' market this past Tuesday, knowing we had scheduled our year-end garlic 'fire sale' at our farm for this weekend, which was a huge hit, bring garlic lovers from as far away as Kalamazoo, MI (2 hours west of us, I'm not kidding!). We are nearly sold out of garlic, but thankfully there is still enough left (1) for us!! and (2) to make powdered garlic to sell later.

We can now totally switch our focus to finish planting the garlic for our 2012 harvest next July. We have ~16,000 (and likely more) garlic cloves to get into the ground during the rest of October and early November, hoping they still have enough time and warmth to get their roots well established. Time will tell on that, i.e., how fast can I plant (hint, hint, I love planting with friends!) and how well the weather gods and goddesses smile on us.

So here are a few photos of the current 'goings-on' at our farm, from pond construction to Michigan State University dietetic students helping us with planting and other needed farm work.

(Photo: Two piles of new organic compost to be spread in the two fields where our garlic will be planted this fall for harvesting in July 2012. Both fields have also had multiple cover crops, i.e. 'green manure', planted and plowed back into the soil for the past two years. The highest compliment we heard today at our garlic barn sale was from a neighbor exclaiming about the beauty of our soil. Thank you for noticing! Yes, we have worked very, very hard since May 2009 to bring health and life back to this land, both literally and figuratively. Although, it is impossible to see, I really took this photo to show the hundreds and hundreds of robins who were 'feasting' on this free lunch, a buffet of life in this healthy compost.) 

(Photo: Our seed garlic hanging in the south end of our barn's loft, harvested in July, quickly sorted into seed, labeled 'seed stock', labeled with the variety, labeled and labeled again, bundled and hung separately to minimize risk of mixing it up with our 'market' stock. These bundles are still waiting for the heads to be broken into individual cloves to plant. We save the biggest and best for our own seed so that next year's garlic harvest will be coming from the hardiest genetic stock that grew in our own climate and soil.)

(Photo: Four of the Michigan State University dietetic undergraduate students who came to our farm to help start our 2012 garlic planting. Here they are taking the bundles of garlic in the previous photo and breaking the heads into cloves. Notice the box, which is clearly labeled by variety. We always work on one single variety at at time, no matter how many workers there are. When you are growing as many varieties as we do (42 this year), labeling, labeling, labeling is the key to our niche at the local markets!)

(Photo: A box of Applegate garlic cloves ready for planting. We planted over 1000 of these huge cloves, which will make gorgeous large heads of garlic perfect for making roasted garlic! Row marker labeled with pencil, which does not wash off as readily as markers, also included in the box.)
(Photo: We plant our garlic in raised beds, the cloves being roughly 6 inches apart, using this string system to keep our rows straight.)
(Photo: An Applegate clove next to cottonwood tree leaves, ready to be planted into the ground. My fingers automatically feel the clove to make sure that 1) it is only one clove, not two that still need separating, 2) the clove is still perfect without spoilage of any kind, and 3) I plant it so that the pointy end is up.)
(Photo: Our last day at a farmers' market in 2011, at the Ypsilanti Downtown market. Today we brought some of all varieties of remaining garlic, 17 out of the original 42, so we needed two tables to display them all. Note the best addition to our stand are the cushioned mats on the concrete between the two tables. SO many people loved it, coming to our booth just to experience standing on it because it feels so good. A friend heard us saying how hard it was on our legs to stand on concrete for 5-6 hours, bought these exercise mats at a second-hand sporting goods store, gave them to us, and wow!, do we enjoy them. Many of our customers told us that they did too. In fact we liked this open booth arrangement so much that we might do it next year, too, even if we don't really need to spread out on two tables. As we put up our tent that day, we noticed a hole - how did that happen? We don't know how it happened, but I think that means we have officially been broken in as farmers' market vendors!)
(Photo: a typical after market dinner, always late, something easy with food I prepared ahead like the red lentil soup complemented with more food we bought at the market or obtained by trading with other vendors. Turnip slices from our garden, plus the cherry tomatoes, fermented garlic scapes, and goat cheese spread all from other vendors. Our dried garlic scapes are sprinkled on the cheese and soup. We also had locally made bread using Michigan ingredients and although not shown, we likely had a glass of my husband's home-made beer, also using all-Michigan ingredients.)
(Photo: Our three bee hives, looking beautifully color-coordinated with the fall foliage. All three have been spectacularly productive this year, although one is currently showing signs of stress. Hopefully we can keep these honey bees alive this winter.)
I recently saw a quotation by Wendell Berry that was new to me. At least the words were new to me even if I already 'knew' them.

"What I stand for is what I stand on"
~~ Wendell Berry
  From "Below" in A Part (1980)

I know I have mentioned that I collect soil quotations and these words seemed like they fit that description. However, I have requested this collection of poetry from our library as I want to read the entire poem to get a more complete feel for the context of this line. 

All weekend long my husband and I deeply appreciated hearing the compliments people paid us on the beautiful garlic we grow plus how much they enjoy our enthusiasm for growing and sharing these multiple garlic varieties with our community. However, I have already mentioned the comment that meant the most to both of us was the one in which one of our customers told us how beautiful and healthy our soil looked. Yes, that was truly music to the ears of these 'old-new' farmers, whose goal was to bring health and beauty back to this neglected spot in our community. To have someone say that about our soil after only two years of healing this 'spot' made my heart melt and was a huge reward for our focused, non-stop life since purchasing this 'vision' in May 2009.

I 'stand for' the health of my community by starting with the health of my soil. 'Standing on' my fields, planting garlic on my hands and knees, feeling and smelling our soil, listening to the wind and life around me, looking at the life I can see in our soil plus knowing how much is also there that I cannot see gives me deep pleasure, beyond words or measure. 

I am sleeping well at night, again, finally. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunset, moonrise

Two great photos from this past week, just by turning around with the moon rising in the east and the sun setting in the west simultaneously. I know the photos don't do that evening justice - it was beautiful and magical. The best part? It was about 65 degrees. I was marveling at how good it felt while taking these photos, to just need a long-sleeve t-shirt and have no need to be wearing gloves. Soon, very soon, too soon, I'll need layers and layers and layers to be warm, even during the daytime while outside planting garlic, but for just a few days this past week we were spoiled with several back-to-back 70-degree days, gorgeous sunshine, and spectacular fall colors - i.e. 'the peak'.
(Photo: Sunset while standing at the beginning of our driveway looking west through the trees. You can just see the front post lamp in front of our house on the left side of the photo)

(Photo: Full moon rising to the east over the little gravel road that leads to our farm, photo taken from our driveway)

More photos will follow showing current farm activities, but this is what I have finally downloaded at the moment!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Pamuzinda” - It means ‘where you belong’

The New York Times has published an article about the rise of farming by refugees to the US, which reminds me of a book I have read entitled The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Kleindienst. 

I first read that book expecting to 'breeze through it'. No.............I did not. In fact I read it three times, including reading most of it aloud to my husband the second time I read it. It is a beautiful, deep, and poignant book. In fact it is not an overstatement to say it is the most beautiful book I have read without photographs. Through the words themselves of the immigrants, from interviews by the author (who is really the editor), I could see these gardens and see their lives. In addition the words themselves brought tears of happiness, sadness, even anger (which is just deeper sadness), and also hope to my eyes and heart.

I have since recommended this book to many dietitian/nutrition colleagues who teach a course in community nutrition, while also recommending it to their students.

There are so many reasons to keep people connected to growing food.

In the New York Times article, one woman interviewed said it best, in fact, she said it 'all'.
...........Ms. Makarutsa was inspired to farm, she said, after tasting supermarket tomatoes. She uses the Zimbabwean phrase “Pamuzinda” to describe her seven-acre plot.
Roughly translated, she said, “It means ‘where you belong.’ "

I could not have said it better.

The refugees highlighted in this article along with those who were included in the book The Earth Knows My Name are doing the exact words that are the tag line of my blog. They all inspire me.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coming home, full circle, again

Another flash from the past. I am loving re-reading my newsletters, especially the introduction section. There is nothing I would change at all on this one! I have only reprinted the introduction section here; for the entire Summer 2003 newsletter, go to my new blog at  where I am gradually transferring my website's contents. 

A Dietitian's Cancer Story Newsletter: Summer 2003

Greetings from Diana Dyer, MS, RD, author of A Dietitian's Cancer Story.

Question - "Diana, do you have a favorite cookbook?"

Answer - This is a very common question that I receive from cancer survivors and others simply interested in a anti-cancer cookbook to use. In fact, much to my surprise, the most frequently used search word that people use to find my web site is *recipe*.

I use a wide selection of cookbooks that I have been collecting for years. They are all vegetarian or *plant-based* cookbooks. I list some on my web site's page of suggested books ( and many in the resource section of my book. Most get regular use; some have fallen apart with use!

The book Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore LappĂ© ©1971, did nothing less than change my life when I found it in 1975 browsing the library stacks while taking a study break. In fact, finally getting my second copy of it autographed by the author last year was a life highlight for me (my first copy literally fell apart). I still use several recipes from that book and always get asked for my Tabouli recipe when I take it to a potluck (, which is based on the recipe from this book.

I have used and loved many cookbooks in the meantime but have recently become a fan of cookbooks by Lorna Sass, in particular her Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, William Morrow & Co., ©1992, Unfortunately, this book is out of print but my husband recently found a used copy for me. I knew I would love this cookbook when I read its dedication, which is very simply dedicated to Mother Earth. In addition, the author's first paragraph states "When I changed my diet a number of years ago, I discovered a beautiful symmetry: What is good for our health is also good for the health of our planet."

Diet for a Small Planet was my first introduction to thought and opinion that eating a vegetarian diet was healthful both for our body and our planet. It made sense to me as a biologist turned nutritionist. A long time ago now, I had first wanted to be an environmental biologist but followed the advice I received (yikes - can't be 30+ years ago!) to be *practical* and enter a profession that would have defined jobs and career-paths, leading me to a career as a Registered Dietitian (RD). My BS in Biology was considered unconventional as a platform for a career as an RD way back then (maybe even now) but I know it has given me many different perspectives, which have been valuable, and many of my colleagues have found helpful and even interesting. :-)

Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen includes frequent *eco-tips* and quotations by cookbook authors, organic food growers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders that remind us of the vital connections between the earth, food, eating, and life. One example: ....Food reveals our connection with the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in the piece of bread! -- Thich N'hat Hanh, Peace is Every Step (New York: Bantam, 1991)

This book is good for my body and soul. It has made me realize that even as an RD, I have come full circle to my original goal. I have always been an environmental biologist, using a plant-based diet to optimize my personal internal environmental biochemistry along with my food choices optimizing the health of our planet. Thus, I urge you to try to find this book at a used book store or check it out at your local library. I don't feel that I could improve it in any way.

As a final note, when I first made Tabouli back in the mid-70's, not only had I never eaten it, I had never heard of it. I can still remember that night like it was yesterday. My husband and I ate the entire recipe - enough for 6 - it was that good! The experience on that evening was a *defining moment* for me; it opened my eyes by making me both aware of and wonder what other wonderful experiences I had been missing in life simply because I had not yet been exposed to them. Be adventurous - try something new, learn something new. Not only might it be 'good for you', better yet, you might actually enjoy it! Life doesn't get any better than that :-)

As an organic farmer-dietitian, I am even more of an environmental biologist-nutritionist than I was when I wrote this newsletter in 2002. In fact, I embrace the term and practice of 'agro-ecology' and hope to incorporate that concept into ideas that I plant as little seeds in the fertile soil of the minds of dietetic students and interns. Viewed retrospectively, I can see that I have been working my way 'back' to where I am as an organic farmer-dietitian for some time. :-)

Here is my plan right now. I'm finding that cookbook by Lorna Sass and heading off to bed (early) to enjoy 'reading my cookbook', maybe finding a great recipe to try or a new inspirational quotation, and tomorrow I am making Tabouli with what are likely to be our last CSA tomatoes. We have not had time all summer to do that, and how, how, how can a whole summer go by without eating Tabouli made with locally-grown heirloom tomatoes? Unthinkable! 

So, Diana, slow down enough for one day to get that made. Yum, yum - I can taste it now. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My tribute to Steve Jobs

I found the following words in one of my past newsletters. What I wrote in 2003 as an observation and hopefully some inspiration is a fitting a tribute today to Steven Jobs. He was an eagle who flew among and above the pesky, pestering crows that represent life's problems and constraints. Mr. Jobs had the vision of an eagle who set his sight on a goal, lived life to its fullest potential to achieve that goal, and did not let the day to day annoyances, initial lack of support and direction, plus major set-backs keep him down among the crows (note - I mean no disrespect to crows here, which I actually enjoy watching).


A Dietitian's Cancer Story Newsletter: Winter 2003

Greetings from Diana Dyer, MS, RD, author of A Dietitian's Cancer Story

I was recently sitting in a Utah canyon when I saw a most memorable sight. A flock of ~ 50 crows plus 3 Bald eagles were flying together in a thermal updraft from the warm canyon rocks. As I viewed them all through my binoculars, I could see the crows pestering the eagles. The eagles put up with this annoyance for a while but then eventually turned as if to say to the crows, "You are only a crow. I am an eagle!" and off each eagle flew, each its separate way.

I was struck by how this real-life observation in nature resembles both our own real-life patterns and opportunities. How often do we find ourselves slowed down or bothered by the myriad of life's distractions or our own poor choices when we really do have the strength and ability within us to follow the better path; one of higher purpose and more meaningful outcome, such as healing our own spirit or that of someone else as just two examples?

Over time, many details from my recent trip will certainly fade. However, anytime I ever see a crow or Bald eagle in the future, I will remember that I have a choice in life; a choice to either hang out with the crows or soar with the eagles. 

My wish is that you will also find some meaningful aspect in life where you rise above the "I can't......" and "If only...." type of statements to "I can...", and "I did it!" I hope you take this opportunity to soar like the eagles after your cancer experience; to move from cancer victim to cancer survivor and then cancer thriver! 


Mr Jobs,
Thank you for all you did to change the world. I hope your example of vision, perseverance, and refusal to accept mediocrity will continue to inspire us all to think outside the box, think 'why not?', to achieve the best, not just what is easy, to soar with the eagles no matter where we are in life, before cancer, during cancer, or after cancer, and before, during, or after other challenges.

I did not know you, but I have a friend who does. Through that friend, I offer you my friendship, and thus as a friend I send you off with a modified meaning of 'Kia Ora', a farewell between friends used by the Maori people of New Zealand:

You can now be well, be alive, and most of all, be free
Ride that thermal as high and far as it will go. 
You've earned it, my friend.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

"Stay hungry, stay foolish"

Steven Jobs address at Stanford University's 2005 commencement ceremony. The address is 15 minutes long and worth your time, even if you have viewed these inspiring and poignant words in the past.

First find your kleenex, and then find your courage to live your own life like it is meant to be lived before you die.

This speech is for everyone, not just cancer survivors, whether you are 22 or 82 years old. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A flash (or two) from the past

I suddenly realized that some of my readers have been 'with me' for a very long time when I recently made a comment about my old email newsletters, which I started writing and sending out in 2002. I remember feeling surprised by how I loved writing those newsletters, even more than developing content for my website.

I found that I especially looked forward to finding some creative way to introduce the newsletter, which was a big surprise to me, as I think that, even in 2002, I was still 'in shock' that I was an author (my book A Dietitian's Cancer Story was first published in 1997), that people continuously gave me positive feedback about the information and inspirational aspects of my book, that I enjoyed public speaking, and it seemed that I continued to enjoy writing, ALL of which would also 'shock' each of my high school English teachers and my classmates, too. Why? After transferring to a new high school in 10th grade, I was mostly silent my next three years, doing lots of observing from the side-lines as I never felt as smart as the 'smart/cool kids' and thus only rarely voluntarily offered comments.

I went back to begin reading my old newsletters, which are still available to read on my website

Knowing I am eventually going to phase out that website, I began thinking about how to transfer the content over to a blog. Thus I happily discovered that I can have a blog by the same name, "". ( I signed up tonight and have begun the blog by transferring my newsletters.

I have enjoyed re-reading them! The first two are transferred, and I will slowly continue to add the others. I don't want to lose them when that other (old and expensive to change/update) website 'goes away' (which is still in the future), so my newest blog is another place to park them for all to read. I hope you enjoy the historical perspective!

(I added the following thoughts the next morning after I posted up some quick comments upon learning of the death of Steven Jobs)

When I did a lot of public speaking to cancer survivor groups, I am sure one reason I was invited was because I am an author and thus I was expected to be able to share some words of wisdom and hope with the audience.  However, I always told my audience that I considered myself to be an 'accidental author', and the fact that I was standing at that podium as an author and even speaking would in fact 'shock' my high school teachers (who would actually be unlikely to even remember me). The lesson from sharing that painful part of my past? Never, never, never define or limit your future by your past. Have hope, have courage, jump in and start doing (or start over!) what you know you want to do (or start exploring!) or what the universe is pulling you to do, even if you do not know how you are going to do it.

Don't wait, really, don't wait..............I would not have guessed I would love writing. I would not have guessed I would have a chance to finally be an organic farmer.

Don't wait........I mean it...........don't wait.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Healing Spaces: Follow-up

It seems so ironic, maybe not :-), that the two people to first comment on my recent post about healing places have given me a 'virtual' healing place on each of their own blogs. I am pretty sure that I have mentioned these blogs before in some of my previous posts (or maybe only in the comment sections) but I want to mention, indeed highlight!, them again.

I stumbled onto these blogs accidentally and now have two new friends. I am fortunate to have met Kateri who blogs at DandelionHaven, and I am still waiting to get to Vancouver, BC to meet Elaine who shares her world at the Berries, the Preserves, and the Greens blogs.

I do not have time to visit each of these blogs on a daily basis anymore (or even read any other blogs I used to follow regularly). Having said that though, the blogs by Kateri and Elaine are the ones that I 'go to' when I need to enter some restorative space late at night, usually when it is long past a reasonable time to be in bed, when I realize I need to find a way to make a transition from working or worrying too hard about something to hoping I can sleep easily that night.

So every couple of weeks, I pop in to see what is new for each of them, what beautiful words (sometimes none at all) and/or beautiful photographs they have posted up on their respective blogs. These blogs never fail me, I mean it. Visiting these two friends, seeing the world through their eyes and hearts makes total sense to me and always evokes some words of my own on their comment sections (usually a grateful 'thank you'), sending me off to bed with a renewed 'peaceful, easy feeling'.

That's where I'm off to now.

Tomorrow we need to switch the focus from marketing our garlic to planting the 2012 crop, which will begin this coming Saturday (the fields need prep work first - they are finally dry enough!). I need to begin serious planning for the crowd of dietetic and nutrition students coming to help us on Saturday. I will function that day as 'volunteer coordinator' rather than preceptor or 'fellow planter/weeder/garlic cleaner/stone & stick remover/etc/etc'. I love working one-on-one with students so we can talk at the same time. Regretfully, that will not be possible on Saturday, so I hope a few of them will be inspired enough to look for opportunities to come back when we'll have more time to actually work together.

Why? I learn just as much from my students as I hope they learn from me. In addition, I enjoy thinking about the questions they ask me and then wondering just where each of them will end up working in our field of food, nutrition, and health in the future. How will each of them 'save the world' in their own little corner of it? I love focusing on hope (in fact I need to focus on hope - another 'lesson learned'), and there is no more enjoyable way to focus on hope than thinking about all the ways that young people are leading the charge and leading the changes needed for our collective future.

Repeating, 'That's where I'm off to now.' (i.e., bed - yes, bed! - go Diana!) :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, October 3, 2011

Healing Spaces

‎"I am not bound for any public place, but for ground of my own where I have planted vines and orchard trees, and in the heat of the day climbed up into the healing shadow of the woods."
-- Wendell Berry (Kentucky farmer, poet, activist)

This quote by Wendell Berry was posted up today on the Facebook page for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Educational Services (MOSES).  Dick and I attend their annual conference at the end of February (in wonderful LaCrosse, WI, where the weather is totally unpredictable at that time of year!), the largest conference in the country for organic farmers.

I have one more 'public gig' and then can hopefully settle into 'ground of my own', which extends to include my own community.  :-)

Even climbing the stairs into the loft of our barn is healing on a cool fall day when the sun is streaming in through the translucent side panels providing both light and warmth.

That's where I am off to in just a few minutes, after spending the morning trying to catch up ('inch by inch, row by row') on some of my back-logged email, paying a few bills, making travel reservations, etc.

I recently noticed that one of my sons listed Wendell Berry as 'inspirational' on his Facebook page. That made a mother feel as though she was in the healing shadow of the woods or up in the warm loft of her barn on a cool October day. :-)

(Photo: Our barn viewed from the west with the afternoon sun shining through its upper panels (see below). We built this barn with a west-facing porch to sit and enjoy the sunset. We'll do that one of these days/years! I do love sitting on this rock however, which will provide a great view of our pond that is currently 'under construction'.)
(Photo: The loft of our barn, with sun streaming in the translucent panels on the right (west side). There is very little 'market' garlic still unsold. Most of what you can see at the south end of the barn is our saved seed stock. I love cleaning garlic up here on a cool day, out of the wind that whistles through the open doors below.)

I consider these healing spaces for me. I hope you have some special places for yourself, no matter how big or how small or how close or far away, places that are restorative or just give you that 'peaceful, easy feeling' (dating myself back to one of my favorite songs by The Eagles).  

I have realized one thing (again, maybe a 'lesson learned') - nothing and no place on a working farm will be 'tidy'. Those picture perfect farms must be a myth. They are not the reality I live in or know!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Chapter 4" - Back Again and Lessons Learned

An honest title for this final chapter describing my transition to full-time garlic farming this summer would have been "Slowing Down/What's That?! Lessons Learned Anyway :-)".

Again, to briefly recap Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 , this summer (our first living full-time on the farm) found me loving living here and farming full-time, but thinking, thinking, thinking (all the time, day and night) about everything that needed to be done and running, running, running trying to do it all and eventually not sleeping. Chapter 3 described just how the Universe got me to 'slow down' with a major medical crisis needing a 3-day hospitalization that I described fully in "Wham Bam!".

However, I understand the concept of 'slowing down' is desirable, but to be honest, I also find it  ambiguous in regards to both the actual goal and the means of doing so! I have enjoyed taking time to cook and even preserve some food and for about one week I was able to keep up with filling our bird feeders and even enjoying looking at my birds, but during the two weeks since I last posted, I have been able to see and feel my life speeding up again.

Why? When you're a farmer and have crops to sell (even a 'durable crop' like garlic that has storage capacity, but only if you have the correct storage facilities), you have to 'make hay while the sun shines' so to speak, getting your product to your customers, in our case to three local farmers' markets, when your customers expect to see you, rain or shine, with full baskets of multiple assorted garlic varieties.When they are ready to buy, you need to be ready to sell!

It's difficult to figure out a business model. Where should we try to sell our garlic? How much time needs to be spent marketing and selling versus farming? How do we set prices? How do we sell all our products at the highest price that is both possible and appropriate? Can we can get all the work done by ourselves or do we have to hire someone to help? How many people would be needed? Can volunteers do this or do we really need to hire 'help'? How much to pay? How fast can they learn, how fast can they work, how careful will they be? Will we still make any money after our expenses? Why are some growers 'dumping' or 'undercutting' our prices?

These questions are only the tip of the iceberg that occupy our minds and our discussions over meals, whenever we're in the car together, and increasingly racing through my mind at night when I was wide awake. (The first year we started our farm, we used to say we knew we were 'real' farmers because we discussed the drainage issues of our fields over dinner! There are still drainage issues in the fields and with our house, and maybe there always will be, but we have clearly added other concerns to our worries!)

I read a book recently about the joys of vegetable gardening, in which the author interviewed some small farmers who had made the jump from 'gardening' to 'farming'. One line caught my eye and brought tears to my eyes with full understanding in my brain, my heart, and in my gut, in which one of the new farmers said that the difference between gardening for yourself and farming for a living was the constant 'cramming' that was needed to be done each and every night when daylight finally dimmed enough to bring you out of the fields and back into the house.

Yes, I understand that. Reading, reading, reading books and internet sites, or talking to other new farmers takes up more time than either of us ever imagined, trying to figure things out as quickly as possible, because our 'cash flow' is on the line. In addition, equally important if not even more important, our 'place' in our community of local food growers and buyers needs to be earned. It's not 'if you plant it, they will come, i.e. buy!"

Getting just an inkling of our busy life, a friend recently asked me "Do you HAVE to do this?" Without missing a beat, I answered truthfully "We WANT to be doing this!" :-) With a different tack however, other people we know have called us 'retired' (ha!), or used the term 'hobby farmer', even 'gentlemen farmer', to describe what we are doing.

Another book I read sometime during the past year about starting up a new farm had a cute title (a 'publisher-type' of title), which I would have promptly and more truthfully re-titled as The Non-Stop Life. Reading it made me laugh a lot, but also weep, again with full visceral understanding of the long days, the days when things seemed to go wrong or just not get started. I have found it not uncommon to hear myself say "we are a year behind on that project", seriously!, even though we feel as though we are working 36-hour days, every single day.

In addition, there is the near universal confession in these books (plus from us along with many of our young-new farmers friends) that those of us growing this beautiful, delicious, and healthy food to sell to our community are regularly too tired to cook and/or eat our own good food.

Going back to knowing that we had a LOT of garlic that needed to be sold this year plus the knowledge that 'our place within the local foods community' needed to be earned have been the two underlying forces leading to the sense of not having the luxury to slow down. Yes, we continue to re-evaluate how to work smarter, not harder, but we still have high expectations for ourselves and need for that positive 'cash flow', both of which have led us both to work, work, work to achieve those two major inter-twining goals. (I have always loved the 'braided' rivers I first saw in Alaska, which is the image I see in my mind for these paths leading to the achievement of our goals).

This past week was our last week for the year with 3 back-to-back-to-back farmers' markets scheduled (two have now ended, one will continue through October). Weather is such a big factor for market turnouts, that when we checked the weather forecast for this past week (rain, rain, and more rain), we groaned and groaned. Maybe it will be wrong; it often has been, all summer long! No, this time the forecast and the actual weather converged accurately. It rained, and rained very hard, each of our market days this past week.

And yet, and yet........we had our best week EVER financially. :-) People came anyway, and they came to the market to buy our garlic. Many people bought a LOT of our garlic to last them through the winter and into the spring without needing to buy store-bought garlic, which is regularly grown overseas, may be a full year old by the time it reaches your local grocery store, chemically treated to successfully store that long, and likely be dry and far less flavorful than ours (even if the same variety).

Thank you to all of our 2011 customers, whether you bought from us once or came back weekly ('See you next week' was music to our ears!) It does look like we will sell out during October! Our gamble last year at this time to plant double the amount that we had planted in 2009 has paid off. We worked very, very hard to market and sell our much larger garlic crop harvested in 2011. I'll be honest. What a relief!

However, again, as I mentioned above, equally if not more important than just 'selling out', we knew we needed to 'earn our respected spot' within our local food growing and food buying communities. Being a novelty as 'old-new' farmers would not be enough. We knew that going into this new venture. We were starting a new small business and knew how much work a new business needs to be successful plus we know the odds against both initial and long-term success for most new small companies.

However, I think our 'sweet success' came this past Thursday evening at the end of the market day. With the rain pouring down, the chef at the Ann Arbor Westside Farmers' Market (located in the parking lot of Zingerman's Roadhouse) came to our market stall to buy and buy and buy as much of our garlic as he could round up cash to do so. He insisted on paying full price, saying our garlic was 'worth it', and thanked us for growing this great-tasting garlic, selling it for what it was worth, and educating our local community about all these varietal differences and appreciation of garlic.

After getting our van loaded up with our remaining garlic and market gear (all quite wet), we then went into the bar at Zingerman's Roadhouse to dry off, collapse, and celebrate with a few other vendor friends. One of the founders of the Roadhouse (along with Zingerman's Delicatessen and the other Zingerman's businesses) who was the strong advocate for the founding of this new farmers' market came to say hi to our small group of vendors enjoying a beer. He extended his congratulations for a great season, saying that seeing us right then 'just made his day'. I think his huge smile (in addition to the large amount his chef bought from us that night) told us that we had 'earned' our spot in our community of both local food growers and local food buyers. I slept well that night. :-)

The biggest lesson (re)learned this summer that I have not already articulated in previous posts came from a third book that I breezed through recently when I spent a morning in bed trying to shake off a new cold/virus (again another easy to read book about starting a new farm from scratch, told from the perspective of a young-new farmer). The author also (like me) quickly became overwhelmed with both happiness and the 'to do list'. She also was bone-tired, not eating well, not sleeping well, constantly thinking about how to better plant, grow, market, sell, make enough money, how to 'please' various types of 'fussy' buyers (thankfully we have very few of these!), how to maintain a relationship when you are so tired you find yourself getting 'snappy' more times than you want to admit, wondering how to explain your passion and and sense of mission ("do you have to do this?") to your parents, your non-farmer friends and relatives (i.e., your 'old world'), and there are so many additional similarities that I could go on and on and on articulating them, including the author having no time for her passion of writing and blogging!

I forget the exact 'crisis' and/or epiphany that this author experienced but it led me to remember the phrase "Rome was not built in a day." Of course! I know that life is an organic, evolving process of 'baby steps'. :-)

"Hello, Diana, the Universe calling again, gently reminding you that you are the one who chose the headline for your blog, i.e. 'Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row'. You put that up on your blog in 2007. So I know that you know that life is 'baby steps'. You know that you know that, and now I hope we can both rest assured that you will remember those words of wisdom and stop trying to 'build Rome in a day', i.e.,  build your farm, repair your home and your land, making all of these and other major transitions to your new life in a day, in a year, or even in two years! This is what is called 'slowing down'. Move fast when you need to, but also take the time, indeed make the time to breathe deeply, look around to enjoy the beauty of your farm (even those annoying invasive species that will eventually be removed), and give yourself a break from your high expectations. You may sleep well tonight and every night, you've done a full day's work, even more, no one can ask for or expect more of you, feel the peace your soul is looking for and has earned."

Those of you who have read my blog since I started it in 2007 (and even read my email newsletters from 2002 through 2007) know I occasionally mention some aspect of my love for New Zealand. However, I don't know if I ever mentioned in my blog or newsletters that on one of our two trips, my husband and I almost spontaneously bought an organic winery. We did not, I guess our sensibility rose to the top, but knowing we came close to doing so made us think deeply about what we almost did, why, and why not.

Those cross-Pacific flights are long and can lead to long thoughts and discussions. We began (re) planning and seriously started looking for our own farm, closer to home, upon arriving back to the States after our second trip to NZ in 2007. :-)

The indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, use the phrase 'kia ora' for both informal greetings (hello, how are you?) and departures (good-bye, see you!). However, between close friends, kia ora can also have deeper meanings, i.e. as a greeting it may mean 'how are you?' or 'how is your soul?' and is said in a manner that invites the friend to sit down and share thoughts and feelings. As a good-bye it may be used in a way that is closer to its literal meaning of 'be well, be alive'. I like these deeper meanings.

The logistics of starting up and running a successful new, small, organic farm can be daunting, indeed overwhelming, apparently no matter if one is a young-new farmer or an old-new farmer. However, if a close friend were to greet me today with 'kia ora', I could honestly say my soul has re-found a sense of peace. Indeed my soul is truly alive, and it is well.

I do believe that in addition to all the worry and even sadness I carry for all those struggling with cancer plus the worries and endless and challenging logistics about our farm that were swirling around in my non-sleeping brain this summer, the universe also tapped me on the shoulder and opened up a small sliver, showing me its ever-lasting beauty, love, life, hope, and goodness. Seeing and feeling the universe in this way gave me a deep sense of happiness and was also a very good reason to not sleep - I did not want to miss a minute! I'm sorry I cannot explain any of that further because I know what I have just said must already sound a wee bit 'out there', and even if you can catch a glimpse of what I am saying, I'm afraid I do not know how to use language to explain what happened any better than that.

Our farm has given us a sense of being part of the life, the hope, and the goodness that are within our community, the world, and the larger universe. It has also given us a sense of place, as we are finally, at last, putting down real roots in our own community.  As I am nurturing our soil back to health, I am also nourishing the people of our community with our beautiful, delicious, and healthy food.

I am privileged to have reached my dream, and I humbly and happily accept the challenges of small-scale organic farming and what will eventually become some of the routines of being a small organic farmer in honor of all cancer survivors, of all people who did not survive cancer, for all people who have endured something difficult in life that has taken away or challenged their health or happiness, and most importantly for all people who in some way will have better health and happiness and be more 'alive' because of our farm.

(Diana and Dick Dyer at the Ann Arbor Westside Farmers' Market, Thursday September 29, 2011, The Dyer Family Organic Farm, at last!, 
Photo by Kris Dudley, my first Ann Arbor friend in 1987, still with us!)
The three books I have referenced in my blog tonight are:
The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball
Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens
The Wisdom of the Radish by Lynda Hopkins

Kia ora, be alive, be well, my friends. :-)

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row" 

Diana Dyer, MS, RD